by Earth Elemental 99, with Martin Maenza
As the evening sky over Houma became a deeper shade of blue, Abby Cable found herself lost in her thoughts. The events of the day had left her with a mix of excitement and cautious hope. She was startled out of her reverie when she heard a knock at her door. Rising from her chair, she rushed to answer it, her heart racing.
Nearby, her friend Chester Williams rose from his seat in curiosity. “Who’s at the door, Abby?” he inquired, peering over his Ben Franklin spectacles. The middle-aged man with long red hair and a mustache was clad in a colorful tie-dyed T-shirt with a peace symbol emblazoned upon it.
Opening the screen door, Abby came face to face with a young man, his vibrant blue eyes sparkling with familiarity. “Hello,” he began, his voice filled with a warmth that instantly put her at ease. “My name is…”
Before he could even finish his introduction, Abby interrupted him, her voice filled with recognition. “Adam Strange!” she exclaimed. Her eyes widened as she remembered their all-too-brief encounter at Grimoire Academy. “You’re the man I met on Grimoire Island, the one who disappeared before you could tell me anything about Alec!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Books of Magic: Ride a Black Horse.]
“Whoa…” gasped Chester, stepping up to the screen door to get a better look at the newcomer. “Far out, man.”
A playful smile tugged at the corners of Adam’s lips as he acknowledged Abby and Chester. “Yes, that was me,” he said in an affable tone. “And I have a personal message for you… from the Swamp Thing. Hopefully, this time I can deliver it properly.”
The revelation hit Abby like a bolt of lightning. She dropped the pen she had been using to fill out her acid rain reports for Chester and took a step back, her breath catching in her throat. “I knew it!” she exclaimed. “Alec is alive! Please, Chester, let him in! We need to talk about this!”
Chester Williams, who had been observing the exchange with open-mouthed astonishment, quickly stepped aside to allow Adam Strange into the house. The space adventurer entered with a grateful smile. It was clear that he held Abby in high regard, knowing the importance of their meeting. For he owed a debt of gratitude to the beloved wife of the earth elemental who had saved his home planet, Rann, from a devastating famine.
As Adam settled into his seat, he gestured toward Abby, a spark of curiosity in his eyes. “When I realized that I would be returning to Earth so soon, I assumed I would have to track you down on Grimoire Island once again. But it seems fate has a way of bringing us together. I never leave a task unfinished, especially one as important as this.”
Abby sighed, a mixture of relief and determination evident on her face. “Since the day we met, I’ve been working tirelessly to find a way out of Grimoire Island,” she explained. “I had hope that Alec was alive, and I needed to be free from that place. Thankfully, I found an ally, someone I could call a friend — Mr. Belmont.”
Adam’s eyes sparkled with intrigue as he leaned forward, eager to hear more. “Are you on vacation, then?” he asked with genuine curiosity.
A small smile played on Abby’s lips as she responded, shaking her head. “No, not exactly. I am completely done with that job on the island. I will never go back there again.” Her smile faded as she remembered the hardships and deception she had endured in the past few weeks. “The school turned out to be nothing like what I initially thought. The people in charge, Gallowglass and Peel, they were only concerned with their own interests. They never truly cared for the well-being of the children under their care. Can you believe they even restricted our freedom to come and go?”
Abby Cable’s voice quivered as she poured her heart out to Adam Strange, who listened attentively, his eyes brimming with understanding. With a solemn nod, he replied, “I’ve been on the receiving end of that myself. Gallowglass wasn’t too pleased when I arrived there to see you.”
“Yes, I remember,” Abby responded, her words laced with gratitude. “Anyway, if it wasn’t for Mr. Belmont’s assistance, I would still be trapped on that wretched island. I no longer care about breaking a contract or reclaiming any owed wages. All I wanted was to escape that place and return home.”
Leaning against the windowsill, Adam’s gaze fixed upon the dark streets and swamps beyond. His expression grew grim as he remarked, “I’m sure your husband would be overjoyed to hear that you’re back home.”
“As am I!” Abby exclaimed, a glint of determination in her eyes. “I’ve had my fill of horror and madness in this lifetime. Never again. Never again!”
Adam’s voice quivered with uncertainty. “Hey, Abby, I apologize. I can see it’s still pretty raw. Maybe I’ve come at a bad time…”
“No, your timing is perfect!” Abby reached out to place a comforting hand on Adam’s shoulder, her fingers gripping his flannel winter shirt. With determination, she looked into his eyes and implored, “Tell me where on Earth Alec is!”
A proud grin tugged at Adam’s lips as he responded, “That’s the thing… Alec is alive, but he’s not on Earth! The Swamp Thing has been having adventures on other worlds.”
Abby pursed her lips, resisting her initial urge to throw the man out as a lunatic or a liar. She had met far too many of those ever since she had been made a spectacle of by the press for her relationship with the Swamp Thing. Adam seemed to be sincere, but she couldn’t know that for sure. With a sigh, she composed herself and said, “Would you care for a cup of coffee, Mr. Strange?”
Moments later, Abby was sipping her steaming cup of coffee, still contemplating Adam Strange’s nearly unbelievable claim about Alec somehow traveling in outer space as she sat across from the adventurer at her dining room table. Chester had been engaging in some small talk with Adam while she prepared the coffee and did her best to calm her mind, now swirling with questions. Outside, the Louisiana bayou set the mood, its allure transcending the small town streets.
Adam gazed out at the marshlands encircling Houma, the memories of Alec tied to those murky swamps. “Alec must yearn for those wetlands almost as much as he yearns for you, Abby. I hope he finds his way back to Earth.”
Growing impatient, Abby interjected, “Listen, Adam, I can sense other people’s emotions. It’s almost like being psychic. It’s the only reason I’m still willing to hear you out after you presented me with such a crazy story. When that stalker, Boston Brand, approached me at Alec’s funeral in Gotham City, I had no reason to believe he was alive. Gallowglass tried to torment me with the pain of losing Alec, and I paid him no mind. Even the evidence Belmont presented seemed questionable, a mere blurry image in the Clock Room. But today, I finally started to trust Belmont’s sincerity. Still, I need solid, scientific proof that Alec can survive in outer space without a physical form, that he can thrive even without the Green to sustain him.”
“I understand your skepticism, Abby,” Adam retorted, his voice filled with determination. His eyes sparkled as he reached into his backpack, revealing a collection of extraordinary gadgets. “That’s why I brought indisputable proof of my encounter with Swamp Thing on the planet Rann.” He carefully laid out his Rannian helmet, jetpack, and blaster on the table, their sleek design shining in the dimly lit room.
Chester’s excitement couldn’t be contained as he exclaimed, “Whoa, man! Who’re you supposed to be, anyway — Buck Rogers? Flash Gordon? Captain Kirk? The Rocketeer?”
Adam grinned and said, “Just call me Adam. And, please, Mr. Williams, don’t touch the blaster — it has no safety switch.” His eyes shifted to the small device he was searching for. With a quiet triumph, he held it up. “Behold, the simulcast holographic projector. Sardath, the brilliant mind who first brought me to Rann, recorded the very council meeting in Ranagar where we discussed the solution to the centuries-long famine plaguing our planet. Alec also attended, though he was rather camera-shy.”
As Adam activated the holographic projector, images flickered and came to life, dancing before their astonished eyes. “Look! That’s Sardath,” he pointed eagerly, “And there’s my beloved wife, Alanna, as beautiful as ever! Ah-ha-ha-ha! And there, right next to me, is Alec! Can you see him? He’s the magnificent, red, cactus-like creature standing next to me.” Adam adjusted the zoom, enhancing the view of Alec. “There he is, closer now, fascinating, isn’t he?”
Abby, her tone sullen, whispered, “He… sort of looks like him. But an alien plant? Really?”
Adam chuckled warmly. “Yeah! We recruited him to restore our ravaged environment, damaged by radiation. Our flora had all but perished, and Alec possessed the extraordinary ability to revive it. In just a week, he created the first natural garden Rann had seen in decades. It was a miracle, a glimpse into our future! And as if that weren’t enough, Alanna brought even more joy into our lives as she announced her pregnancy! I am going to be a father, and our world has finally found its salvation. All thanks to the Swamp Thing! As promised, I accompanied him here when he departed Rann for J-586. I trust that the Green Lantern called Medpyll was able to fix his damaged wavelength patterns. But I am certain beyond doubt that Alec wisely steered clear of Brainiac, who, at the time, was still at large in that very space sector.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Swamp Thing: Deep Space: Meeting of the Minds.]
Abby looked at Adam with a furrowed brow, concern etched across her features. “So, that’s all that happened on Rann?” she asked.
Adam shrugged nonchalantly, a mischievous glint in his eyes. “Oh, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, my friend. You wouldn’t believe the unexpected threats we faced. There was this Thanagarian protection racket, led by none other than Keela Roo, a notorious mob boss. Picture this, Abby — a woman in a Hawkmen elite’s style uniform, complete with wings and all. She tried to undermine us, but we were armed with Alec’s ‘no strings attached’ brand of genuine kindness. You can’t say no to a saint, can you?”
Abby shook her head in disbelief. “But it sounds so dangerous. How did you manage to handle it all?”
Adam sighed, his gaze turning distant. “Alec certainly had his fair share of close calls. There was this moment when Keela’s winged thug nearly killed him with a Thanagarian mace. Then Lady Hawk retaliated by using a neural scrambler on him. I had to step in and cover for him. I defeated Keela’s henchman first, and then I gave the boss-lady a taste of her own medicine. But she almost had me, Abby. Thankfully, one of Sardath’s liquid beasts came to the rescue and put an end to her reckless ambitions. She paid the price for her greed, drowning before she could ever lay her greedy hands on our Zeta-Beam technology.”
Abby gasped, her hand pressed against her mouth. “You risked your life for Alec. I can’t even imagine the bravery it took.”
“In a way, it was just another day at the office for me,” Adam said with a shrug. In a more serious tone he added, “It’s what friends do, Abby. We stand by each other no matter what. Alec wanted me to come here and tell you that he’s alive and that he’s doing everything he can to come home to you. He didn’t want you to worry, so he sent me to tell you what happened to him. I hope I’ve won your trust, at least, Abby.”
Tears welled up in Abby’s eyes as hope shone through her despair. “Yes, Adam, I do. Despite how insane your story may sound, I believe you. I’ve always hoped that Alec survived his assassination in Gotham City, and now I know he did. The DDI may have tried to murder him, but he’s out there somewhere in space, fighting to return. I know he’ll come back to me one day, and hopefully soon.”
Abby reached out and embraced Adam Strange, the weight of their shared hope filling the room. “I can’t thank you enough for telling me about this, Adam.”
“Hey, that’s what friends are for,” replied the hero of Rann, happy to have gained a new friend. “I’m glad I could help. I hope everything works out for you and Alec.”
Overwhelmed with gratitude, Abby kissed Adam’s cheek, a brief moment of affection that suddenly reminded him of something very important. “Alanna! The Zeta-Beam home to Rann! I need to get going,” he said, hastily collecting his items into his backpack. “Look, I hate to cut and run, but I can’t afford to miss my ride back.”
As they gathered their things and prepared to step outside, a young woman with wet red hair and a bathrobe appeared in the hallway. Startled and confused, she timidly approached them, her voice filled with uncertainty.
Abby let out a long sigh, enveloping the nervous woman in a comforting embrace. “Oh!” she said. “Adam? Before you head out, I want you to meet my dear friend, Elizabeth Tremayne. She’s been through so much in the past year, just like me. But she’s getting better now. Liz, I’d like you to meet Adam Strange. Hey, Liz? Can you look up and say hello to this wonderful gentleman for me?”
Liz Tremayne, a former author and journalist, gazed at the visitor with a tender and vulnerable expression. “You know Alec Holland? I once wrote a book about him. I-it wasn’t my best work, but a lot of people read it and liked it.”
“I remember you, Miss Tremayne,” Adam replied, taking her hand gently. “I was a huge fan of yours when you were on TV a few years back. In-Depth Magazine with Liz Tremayne was an exceptional show! Could I trouble you for an autograph?”
Liz’s voice turned shy and soft as she answered, “I suppose so.”
“Zeta-Beam, man,” Chester chimed in, reminding Adam. The clock struck midnight, emphasizing his point.
“Well, it seems Valentine’s Day is officially over for all you good folks here on Earth,” Adam remarked with a smile. “For me, the celebration doesn’t truly begin until I’m reunited with my beautiful wife, Alanna! Maybe I’ll get an autograph from Miss Tremayne next time I visit Earth, if I can make it out here to Louisiana. It’s been a pleasure meeting all of you.” Adam bid his farewell to Liz, and Abby and Chester followed him outside.
Adam’s sturdy hiking boots, Chester’s casual tennis shoes, and Abby’s bare feet moved swiftly over the cold, wet grass, leading them several yards away from the house. Finally, Adam stopped their progress and unpacked his backpack as he ran to the center of the field.
“Okay, it’s time for me to go,” he declared. “Under normal circumstances, Zeta-Beams only land in the southern hemisphere of Earth. So, I have to be at the exact coordinates and the right time to return to my adopted home. This time, it’ll strike a lake in the mountains of Peru!”
“Goodbye, Adam Strange,” Abby shouted, tears welling up in her eyes. “I’ll always be grateful for your kind visit! If you ever need anything, you can count on me.”
Adam’s usually stoic expression softened, and he responded with heartfelt sincerity. “Remember, Abby, there’s nothing more powerful in the entire universe than the love of two people who care about each other. And you don’t have to necessarily be a human being or living life on your home planet to be able to experience it! You just have to believe. Then you’ll know for sure. Wait here for Alec. He will come back. You will be together again someday. Keep the faith, Abby.”
Adam glanced up at the Louisiana midnight sky before adjusting his trusty jetpack. “I need to go. Got a Zeta-Beam to catch.” With that, Adam Strange blasted off into the skies, heading south at a terrific speed.
Chester’s eyes widened as he watched Adam Strange rocket off into the distance. “Whoah! Talk about a man from another planet! Man, I’m tellin’ you! And his asking Liz for an autograph back there? What a class act!”
“The man who just left us told me everything I needed to hear!” Abby exclaimed, holding her aging hippie friend close to her. She patted Chester Williams reassuringly on the back and said, “Now that I’m safe at home with my friends, I have everything that I need. I can afford to be patient. I can wait for Alec to find his way home.”
Chester’s brows furrowed with concern. “Say, Abs, is there any way the big guy knows you’re waiting for him? I mean, it’s gonna be an awful long trip.”
Abby grinned mischievously. “Oh, don’t worry on that account, Ches! I sent Alec a special delivery message to outer space, just like the one he sent me tonight! If John Constantine’s theory of synchronicity holds up, Alec should be receiving the ‘valentine’ I sent him right about now.”